When you think of occupational noise hazards, you think of the pounding of tools, beeping of vehicles or the whirring of loud machinery in the construction, mining or manufacturing industries. However, there are many other industries with occupational noise hazards that may not seem as obvious. A new study by NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) shines a light on industries with unexpected or hidden risks from noise exposure. 

The service industry - one of the largest sectors of American industry -  is also at high risk for occupational hearing loss. The new research from NIOSH reveals that service industry workers exposed to noise have a significantly elevated risk of losing hearing. It’s vital to keep all noise-exposed workers protected with appropriate hearing protection, hearing conservation programs and training.  

This brief synopsis of the service industry and NIOSH study is beneficial for safety managers, occupational health nurses, industrial hygienists, HR professionals and others working in occupational health and safety. 

What’s included in the service industry?

The service industry provides services to people in the form of customer service, design, experience and management. According to the Center for Disease Control, the service industry is quite vast. For instance, occupations that include working with food or hospitality – such as hotels, bars or restaurants -  are one of the most common examples of service industry jobs. Financial and economic services, such as renting/leasing services or financial advising, is a people-centric service. Media and entertainment, such as newspaper and magazine publication, online news and video production, are also included in the service industry. 

While many sub-sectors (a term used for each individual service industry example) in the NIOSH study are viewed as “low risk” for hearing loss, noise exposure prevalence is still a risk. Hearing protection or conservation is necessary for worker’s hearing health. 

The NIOSH study

The NISOH research includes a study of nearly 1.9 million audiograms from industry workers, with 158,436 of those being service industry workers. Here are some of the findings. 

• Occupational hearing loss affects approximately 12% of the American workforce.

• Hearing loss within the service industry was 17%, while hearing loss in all industries combined was 16%. 

• The urban planning and community & rural development sub-sector had the highest occurrence of noise exposure.

• The solid waste combustors and incinerator sub-sector are the most at-risk for hearing loss. 

• Even “low risk” jobs, such as technical and professional schools and services, have higher than expected exposure for hearing loss.

Be aware no matter what your industry 

Hearing testing should be conducted throughout an employee’s work shift. It’s vital to not schedule everyone for a test early in the shift. Remember, the hearing test assesses how well the hearing protection portion of the hearing conservation program is working. Testing later in the shift is the best way to assess this. If hearing protection is working as it should, an employee should be able to be tested at any point during the shift and show no hearing shift.

Bring hearing protection to the mobile unit...

Regardless of your sub-sector of the service industry – entertainment, food service or transportation – your workers may be exposed to hazardous occupational noise. For example, production workers at media companies may be exposed to loud printing machinery. Workers at arenas and bars may be exposed to loud music. If you are unsure of your workforce’s exposure, noise monitoring via a noise survey will be beneficial. Familiarity and education with OSHA’s hearing standards, workplace hearing hazards and a protection plan is always the best course to protect your employees. 

With an organized plan and the proper equipment, occupational hearing loss is preventable. Workplace noise exposure can be decreased and occupational hearing loss impeded with hearing loss strategies and technology. Whether you are in a “high risk” or “low risk” industry, it’s always important to have a hearing conservation plan in place. 

As a manager, there’s practical action to take at your place of work. Quieter equipment and machinery, sound absorbers, well-insulated walls or vibration reduction all contribute to a safer place of work. 

How Examinetics can help 

When it comes to occupational hearing testing, a trusted partner is your best option. Examinetics is a leading provider of audiometric tests – we guide thousands of companies through hearing conservation programs. We come directly to you to save you time and money. 

If you are in need of compliance with OSHA Noise Standard 29 CFR 1910.95, we provide test, train and counsel programs. In this comprehensive package, we not only test your employees, we offer training – a look into the importance of hearing protection, the inner workings of the ear and various types of hearing protection – as well as counseling, a step-by-step approach to understanding your test results. Additionally, our account managers can help design a hearing conservation program that meets your specific needs 

Learn more here.


This is business-to-business information intended for EHS (environmental health and safety) professionals and not intended for the final consumer. Companies should check the local regulatory status of any claim according to their individual needs, requirements and intended use.